Healing Whiteness Trauma

“The first step in liquidating a people…is to erase its memory…Before long a nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster.”—Milan Kundera

Whether you are considered “white” or not, I feel confident saying you have been impacted by whiteness trauma, and as this quote suggests, that your people/s likely experienced and perpetrated genocide somewhere in your family line/s. Genocide is an intentional act to destroy a people, and whiteness is an intellectual construction based on traumatic social rejection from & disconnection with Mother Earth, self & cultural heritage, and other people. It was used as a tool by the ruling class to divide the working class, and so is also called “the bribe of whiteness.” David Dean gives a clear and compelling history of the creation and rise of the “white” identity in this article, People who have learned to identify as “white” tend to deny their own complex cultural heritage. Some people even study “whiteness theory” and “white fragility” to try to make sense of the shame they carry and the way this history of European identities being whitewashed and replaced by modern, nationalistic ‘Western’ identities still play out today. For example, did you know that assimilationist policies in the U.S. in the late 1800s and early 1900s led to companies like Ford running mandatory English classes and job training programs that finished with ceremonies in which people clad in traditional cultural clothing walked through a huge ‘melting pot’ then emerged in company uniforms? (Image from here)

fordschoolmeltingpot

David Dean cites the success of such policies & programs on two factors:

  1. The violent displacement of communities from their traditional lands in order to use that land for profit and create a dependent, exploitable workforce, and
  2. The replacement of traditional cultural identities that valued the welfare of the community and the Earth with a culture of capitalistic, possessive individualism with a social hierarchy divided along racial, gender, religious, and other identities.

As Tyson Yunkaporta points out in his new book, ‘Western’ is not an identity, because by its nature it is in reference to someone or someplace else (presumably ‘Eastern’); it is not inherent. To be ‘American’ or ‘Australian’ is also quite amorphous. I have out of curiousity asked a number of people what it means to them to be ‘Australian,’ and I have gotten one of two answers: (a) I am part of a multi-cultural modern soup, or (b) It means nothing to me, and I am English/Irish/Wiradjuri/Yuin/etc. living on this land we collectively call ‘Australia’.

My view is that whiteness trauma is based on a European history of intergenerational trauma, shame & pain. It was spread by the Romans & other empires dividing and subjugating peoples on their traditional lands; by the violent spread of Christianity through power & force, including the systematic desecration of indigenous & pagan sacred sites; and by horrendously hateful acts such as witch trials, inquisitions, slavery, rapes & genocides. It seems to me that over the last few thousand years, violence, terror & control became normalized as a method of asserting dominant leadership throughout Europe. Multi-generational disconnection with an innately human intimate & reciprocal relationship with the Earth were replaced by a power struggle for whose anthropocentric story is ‘right’, in a might-makes-right model. This led to land ‘discovery’ (i.e. colonisation) and other myths such as when upper class, white-skinned, Christian, land-owning males founded a ‘free’ government for ‘the people’ in the U.S. Ultimately, whitewashing & glomming together of many European peoples and cultures into “Western” expanded to non-‘white’ people, so that today millions of people around the world identify with a colonial nation rather than a traditional culture living within an empire.

Here is a little poem I wrote about my own journey of healing ‘whiteness’ trauma:treechakras

Beneath the Roots

Ancestral trauma 
Has defined me
But I kept digging
Because I knew
My taproot was deeper
And drinking in peace
Somewhere down there

To heal from whiteness trauma, I have found many helpful approaches, including: honouring ancestors, grounding, re-defining tribe & belonging, bridging multiple identities, healing power dynamics, and healing existential wounds. The following quote is a humbling reminder of what our indigenous minds carry somewhere inside of us from an Australian Aboriginal culture more recently colonised:

“The first peoples of this land don’t need statues of our heroes, we have mountains that remind us of our people. We don’t need painted portraits, we have rivers that flow with the stories of our dreaming. Our songs are filled with culture, our language of the land. So we don’t need books. Our history, our connections, our hearts are true to this country.”–Baker, 2017, quoted in Koori Mail, Oct 23, 2019 p. 24

- Tree Annick Racines du Ciel

(Image from here, by artist Annick Bougerolle)

2 thoughts on “Healing Whiteness Trauma

  1. This is just so beautiful put my darling, and I loved your poem very much.

    For me personally, my journey of healing seemingly began at the level of the existential.

    I have been discovering a wound of such startling pervasiveness and depth that I am still overwhelmed just thinking about it. This wound has me starting life as a soul in sin, with only linear paths available, either up to the heavens or down to hell. Which direction my steps take me are judged by my psyche, community (or collective psyches), and ultimately, by a vision of paternalistic divinity.

    To begin the journey of finding (and stabilising!) a sense of unconditional compassion and value in myself has been hard. It necessarily involves finding a community that holds the same value, and a cosmology, both relative and absolute, that allows me to experience a sense of unwavering faith in innate goodness (or love, purity, whatever you want to call it).

    What has this to do with whiteness? For me, the truth of what whiteness is, and has done, is just too terrible to hold without this work. Without it, I can’t imagine any alternative to sitting in denial and guilt as this is the judgemental and dualistic program with which I have been conditioned to make sense of the world, consistently and relentlessly reinforced by most people around me, and by society/culture.

    Once I began finding this depth of ultimate self-compassion, it seemed natural to go on my own journey of discovery about the culture and society I live in, and the frameworks, both ancestral and contemporary — that I live by, and that so clearly do not serve me very well. And with this has come a relatively effortless and equanimous (compared with before but by no means omnipresent) compassion for those other people so clearly suffering under in this case the yoke of whiteness.

    It now seems so incredibly natural to see that if I go back long enough, I will find that all of us can bond over very similar wounds. That these wounds have been experienced at different linear times and via diverse physical manifestations is a challenge as far as empathy, but also a tremendous opportunity to experience a living museum of my own ancestral traumas.

    Like

  2. Powerful, THANK YOU

    Hey Valerie — hope you all are doing well, especially in light of the horrific fires. Am sharing this breakthrough blog! Love your poem as well.

    Sending my best — and wishing you a Great 2020,

    Thanks for all your work!

    Chris

    >

    Like

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